We’ve all done it. Sometimes it happens in seminar, sometimes in a colleague’s office, sometimes at the bar.
We wander off onto a weird conversational tangent about theory. Before we know it, we’re debating the merits of Foucault’s stance on surveillance and the panopticon, or similar. Then at some point, one of us will pipe up and say, “you know, this is a really weird conversation, nobody but us would probably understand it.”
But here’s the thing: we’re not being all high and lofty when we think that. We’re not thinking “most people wouldn’t understand this conversation, because they’re so far beneath us, intellectually.” No. We’re thinking “most people wouldn’t understand this conversation, because most people choose to talk about other things. We’re unusual in that we like to talk about this.”
I think many of us recognized, at a very young age, that we were different, that our peers cared about different things than we did. And that made us feel kind of isolated. We longed to find “our own kind,” to discover other people who didn’t think we were nerds, or didn’t care if we were. Through the years, we connected with a few like-minded folk. When we reached grad school, a strange phenomenon occurred. So many of us, all in one place.
And what a relief to have found our own kind.
People imagine that we must feel superior. Maybe some of us do, but for the most part, we’re just hyper-aware that we’re different, and glad to have found the homeland. Let me put it this way. Say my friend Joe is an expert on, oh, rugby (a sport about which I know nothing). We run into a bunch of rugby fans, and he joins them for a rousing conversation that goes completely over my head - and I’m not that interested anyway. Does that mean that I’m stupid, or that Joe and company think I have the IQ of a cheese sandwich? Probably not. We just care about different things.
And we’re excited to talk about those things with someone who understands.